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North Florida Field Office

Fact Sheet on Federal Designation of 13 Manatee Protection Areas in eight Florida Counties


Manatees are a federally protected species, protected under both the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act. Currently, boat-related mortality in manatees probably poses the greatest human-caused threat to the species. Historically, collisions with watercraft are responsible for about 25 percent of all manatee deaths and about 80 percent of all human-caused mortality in manatees.

In January 2000, Save the Manatee Club and several other groups and individuals filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers alleging violations of the Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and Administrative Procedure Act. Four groups representing development and boating interests intervened. Following intensive negotiations a settlement agreement was approved by the court on January 5, 2001.

We completed our review of all the recommendations, pre-proposal comments, and best available biological data. On August 3, 2001, we published a proposed rule in the Federal Register and opened a public comment period for 60 days. There were four public hearings held in Crystal River, Clearwater, Venice and Melbourne Florida. We received almost 3,500 public comments during the comment period. We evaluated these comments in making our final decision.


On July 9, 2002, a U.S. District Court Judge in Washington, D. C. determined that the Service’s actions did not satisfy the terms of the settlement agreement, and that the Service must designate both refuges and sanctuaries in a broader area of peninsular Florida pursuant to the settlement agreement. In subsequent Court orders the Service was directed to finalize its manatee protection area decisions on or before November 1, 2002.


On November 1, 2002 we submitted a final rule to the Federal Register designating 13 manatee protection areas in eight (8) Florida counties. One area in Citrus County, one in Pinellas County, and two in Hillsborough County are designated as manatee sanctuaries in which all waterborne activities would be prohibited, with exceptions for adjoining property owners. The remaining 9 areas located in Citrus, Hillsborough, Sarasota, Charlotte, De Soto, Lee, and Brevard counties are designated as manatee refuges in which certain waterborne activities are prohibited or regulated. We are also withdrawing the South Gandy Navigation Channel Manatee Refuge from our rule because Pinellas County has more comprehensive measures in place at this site. Waterborne activities are prohibited within the sanctuaries and watercraft will be required to proceed at "idle speed" or "slow speed" (as specified) within the refuges. Exceptions are provided to allow adjacent public and private land owners vessel and maintenance access, subject to any permitting requirements. Publication of this final rule meets the requirements of the Save the Manatee Club et al v. Ballard Settlement Agreement and ensures compliance with the related U. S. District Court ruling and orders.


The Final Rule, Frequently Asked Questions and this Fact Sheet are available at our web site. Paper copies may be requested by writing to USFWS, Attn: MPA Final Rule, 6620 Southpoint Dr. S, Suite 310, Jacksonville, FL 32216, by fax at 904-232-2404 or by e-mail at manatee@fws.gov.

If you have specific questions or need special assistance, please contact our Jacksonville Field Office at 904-232-2580, ext. 109.

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Send comments on our web site or general questions to northflorida@fws.gov
If you need special assistance please contact the Public Affairs Officer at chuck_underwood@fws.gov

Last modified March 13, 2003